OPLIN – Study Tour 2007

Today I saw behind the scenes at OPLIN – Ohio Public Library Information Network, here in beautiful Columbus. The weather has been beautiful and warm the last few days, making up for the freezing weather I experienced when I first got to the US. Here’s just some brief notes on my day.

The team at OPLIN comprises director Stephen Hedges, PR Joel, Network Manager Karl and Help desk staff Vince and Bobbie. They manage the content and internet connections for all 251 library services across the state.

OPLIN provides the physical internet connectivity and database content for all public libraries in Ohio. They did this in collaboration with consortium representing the schools and colleges in the state to get the best prices. At the moment, they have 10-12 core databases and help libraries to get group rates on other databases which are not part of the core or subscribed to by all public libraries.

Their 2 key responsibilities are to provide T1 access to each public library service in the state and to provide content. They have also added a 3rd goal – to assist their libraries with www technology. More on that later.

They use 3 servers to deliver this service, a web server, a proxy server and a database server, all running Linux and with all the appropriate routers and firewalls etc. All this equipment is hosted at the State of Ohio Computing Center and is managed locally by their Network staff in conjunction with OPLIN staff, who monitor network operations from their offices.

They have minimal access issues, because of the way they do it. They have EZProxy for all 251 services and authenticate all access through this. If the IP is library based, the user goes straight through. If it is not a library IP, the IP is then checked against a list of Ohio based IP addresses and if on that list, it goes through – although they do ask for a zip code at this time, for library statistics, not for authentication. Anyone who is still not authenticated by this stage is asked for their library card number – this is about 3% of users, everyone else has quick and seamless authentication.

As with other consortia and databases elsewhere, they find that databases aren’t accessed as well as they could be, so are continually looking at new ways of promoting their content. They provide great supportive content on their website – including help guides on their databases, a FAQ and a weekly newsletter “4Cast” (blog based) on what to watch, which is delivered by email and RSS and aims to inform Ohio public libraries on Web 2.0 and also teach them about blogs and RSS. They send out about 200 copies via email and have 50 subscribers to the RSS feed through bloglines alone.

They are working on a new website – well 2 actually, a new one for the public which will incorporate a better federated search option, the other for library staff. The Ohio Web Library will have a Google type interface – they have 2 prototypes they are playing with, which they will user test before going live. OPLIN also includes extra information sources, including a link directory of OHIO related content (about 25,000 links) and 3 specialist sources – What snake is that, What tree is that and Whats the point – which is on flint artifacts. There are also links to useful resources for kids, teens and teachers. This is all managed by OPLIN’s PR person Joel Husenits and a part-time contributing editor. The OPLIN database list also contains links to free content resources.

Between all this, they do podcasts every 2-3 weeks, using just a Mac, a microphone and a script and upload it to their Word Press blog using the Pod Press plug in – 17 done so far. They have also done screencasts using open source Camstudio with Virtual Dub for the audio.

They use multiple sources for their support calls – traditionally they use email or phone, but are moving towards instant messaging – they already use it in-house, between them and the network centre and with one of the consortia they assist.

Stephen also introduced me to KnowItNow, the State Library of Ohio’s live 24/7 online reference service. Librarians across the state run it during the day, with paid staff taking the overnight. They are using proprietary software at present, but are looking to change to an open source software package, maybe in conjunction with another State Library.

OPLIN is also looking to the future in other ways. They have created a webpage for mobile devices, which is in test phase. It enables a user to search for and get the contact details for any library in the state. The server recognises that the requesting device is a mobile one and delivers the content in the appropriate format. They will expand this service to include being able to search the databases, but this is dependent on whether the vendors can deliver the content in the same format.

Thanks to Stephen, Karl, Joel and Bobbie at OPLIN for sharing their day and their operations with me, it was all very interesting and inspiring.